Today’s Wall Street Journal Europe carries an editorial titled “Jamais on Sunday” approving of the French government’s attempt to allow some businesses to open on Sunday:
Parliament is likely today to pass a bill that would scrap the 1906 law restricting Sunday work. The law’s original purpose was to keep Sundays sacred — France’s empty churches show how well that’s worked — and the Catholic Church remains a strong supporter. But it has become emblematic of the regulatory red tape strangling the economy. Some 180 exceptions have been made to the law. For instance, a store that sells sunglasses can open on Sunday because sunglasses are considered entertainment, while a store that sells eyeglasses must be closed.
This got me thinking about Pope Benedict’s call in n. 32 of Caritas in Veritate to “prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone” and also about this Foreign Policy piece on Europe’s new “lost generation”:
Unemployment among job seekers under 25 in France has risen more than 40 percent in the past year, while total unemployment rose by about 26 percent. A third of Britain’s unemployed are under 25. Youth unemployment is nudging 40 percent in Spain.
The Baltic states, whose bubble burst so dramatically last fall, have seen the greatest increases. In June 2008, between 8.9 and 11.9 percent of young people in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia were out of work. As of the last round of reported data, from March and April, those rates stand between 25 and 35.1 percent — about a threefold increase in less than a year.
The effects aren’t simply financial. One prominent British think-tanker recently warned, “If this situation persists, the risk may be of a new generation lacking the experience, qualifications, and self-belief to provide for themselves and their families.”
Moreover, youth unemployment, much more so than for older workers, carries dangerous social effects: social exclusion, depression, poorer health, social disruption, and higher incidences of crime, incarceration, and suicide. With every month a teenager is unemployed, for instance, his or her likelihood of being convicted of a crime increases.
“It’s hard to say whether a whole generation is ‘doomed,’” says Yale University political scientist David Cameron. “The cyclical component will probably start receding a bit in late 2010 or 2011. But we’ll have higher unemployment for a long time to come. Europe needs a growth rate of 2 to 3 percent a year, year after year, to bring the rate down substantially. I don’t think anyone sees that happening anytime soon, if ever.”
“The great benefit is that in a few years, when the Earth turns, there will be thousands fewer [young job-seekers],” says Blanchflower, the former British central banker. “But now, we’re just trying to get these economies moving. And unemployment, especially among young people, is a ticking time bomb.”
(HT: Real Clear World)
The Church’s position against Sunday work makes sense if people actually went to Church, just as it would be absurd for the Church to de-emphasize the great importance due to the Lord’s Day. But with rising unemployment among the youth and the degree of secularization that has already taken place, does it still make any sense?
I remember my graduate school days in Toronto when I first saw bumper stickers that read “Keep Sundays Free for Family and Friends.” I noted the noble sentiments but also the significant absence of God from the Sabbath.
So how has the introduction of Sunday business affected our understanding of Sunday worship? Should the Church argue against market deregulation that would help young people find work and begin their adulthood? Is it impossible to combine Sunday work with Sunday worship? Is it the case that once Sunday is treated like any other day of the week, the Church has already admitted defeat?